Whether you’re pitching for new business, or simply want to improve your networking skills, knowing how to deliver your elevator pitch with ease is crucial. Two Kiwi small business owners share their top tips for effective self-promotion.

How to tell an effective story

Ben Paul is the founder and director of The BD Ladder, an Auckland-based business development and marketing consultancy focused on growing B2B and professional services firms. He says instead of preparing an elevator pitch, think about how to tell your business’s story.

“The trap a lot of people fall into is sounding like the ‘about us’ section of their website. Instead, tell a potential customer what your business can do for them,” he says.

“The key to a great story is one that speaks to the heart. Buying is an emotional process, not a logical one.”

When it comes to building a narrative about your business, Paul says to start by using customer feedback to create a story with a clear structure of problem, solution and the outcome.

“Telling this story from a customer’s point of view is much more compelling, because the person listening will want that same experience or outcome,” he says.

Prepare for the worst

Whether preparing a formal presentation or looking to spark casual conversations at a business event, Paul says that he writes down three to six questions he would least like to be asked in a new business pitch or networking situation.

“If you’re prepared for the most difficult questions in advance, you’ll feel much more comfortable than trying to answer them on the fly,” he says.

This way, after rehearsing your pitch, you can handle any bumps with muscle memory, he says, and deal with any awkward issues with confidence.

Paul recommends asking other people in your business or network to think of a few difficult questions to ask you as well. This helps you to see the bigger picture as they might notice things you haven’t yourself.

“This way, you know you’re talking to things that are important to people, and addressing their key concerns,” he says.

Don’t sell too hard – lead people to buy

Paul believes most people are too quick to blurt out their business proposition.

“You’ll see this a lot on LinkedIn, where someone connects to be your friend and then the next minute, they send you a copy and paste email [promoting their business]. That’s too much, too early,” he says.

You want to strike the right balance between shamelessly plugging yourself or your business and missing out on an opportunity to get the word out there. Paul says it’s about genuine promotion and communication, and the key to doing that is by asking questions.

“The trap a lot of people fall into is sounding like the ‘about us’ section of their website.” – Ben Paul

“Particularly in light of the pandemic, people really want to talk,” he says. And they’ve got more time to connect and network than ever before. When you show a genuine interest in someone else, when the time comes to talking about your own business, they’ll be more willing to listen with open ears, he suggests.

A great icebreaker, whether in-person or online, is asking someone what their biggest challenges are in the current climate, or where they see themselves in the next six-to-12 months, Paul says. This gives you the opportunity to share your own learnings and talk about your business offering in the process.

“It doesn’t matter whether you sell them something or not. Asking questions and being there to help is about building trust and credibility in yourself,” Paul says.

“This opens up opportunities for referrals and sales down the track. People don’t like to be sold services – they like to buy services. That’s an important difference.”

Understand the cultural nuances of communication

Jo Pennycuick is founder and managing director of Christchurch-based design practice Redesign. With many of her clients based in the Middle East and Asia, she’s learned that a little homework goes a long way.

“There’s a lot of intricacies when it comes to dealing with people from other cultures. If you’re pitching yourself into different markets, you have to do your research to make sure that you know about them [and how their businesses operate],” she says.

Pennycuick says projecting respect – such as knowing the appropriate cultural greetings – can speak louder than what you’re saying.

“Know your market and audience, and what you want to get out of every interaction,” she says.

Hacks to boost confidence

Even the most seasoned business owners can succumb to a bad case of the nerves when put in a situation where they have to promote themselves and their business. If that’s you, try these great research-backed approaches to building and projecting confidence, such as:

  • Power posing – research has found that by taking an open stance and placing your hands on your hips (like a superhero) for as little as two minutes leads to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, meaning the power poser exudes more confidence and feels more powerful. This is a great trick to do right before going into a situation where you’re pitching your business.
  • Mirroring others’ body language – research suggests that when you mirror the body language of someone else, you can increase the chance of leaving a good impression.